Combining Classic and Modern Literature

Paul Romani

A Poison Tree by William BlakeWilliam Blake Meets ‘Enemy Pie’

As long as the texts are relevant to our students, Pear Tree Education believes in combining classic and modern literature.

This week, we looked at William Blake’s poem ‘A Poison Tree’.
The poem talks about the benefits of communication in dealing with anger, as well as the consequences of letting anger brew. Blake uses a wonderful running metaphor of a seed (anger) growing into a poison tree – fed by fears, pretense, and imagination – that eventually causes sinful actions.
In general, Blake’s poems are fantastic for kids because, despite being written for adult readers, they were always written with children in mind.
Blake’s poems also incorporate art, which is something very special to his style of poetry and something that children can and should appreciate.
Enemy Pie
Next, we looked at the picture book ‘Enemy Pie‘ written by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King.
This book tells a similar story to Blake’s poem, that of someone that thinks only bad thoughts about his supposed ‘enemy’.
However, the story takes an interesting twist in teaching the boy – and the reader – how to deal with conflict, by being nice.
It’s all too common to find school teachers that are hung up on traditional literature and the old classics. The problem with this is that in multi-cultural societies (UK, Canada, USA), many such texts have little to no direct relevance to today’s children.
While Pear Tree is careful about choosing texts that are excessively oriented towards promoting the ideals of white, Anglo-Saxon, male values, there are many classic texts that are still relevant and offer profound insights into culture, history, and human nature.
We balance text choices by introducing modern literature, including that written by women and people of non-Anglo Saxon backgrounds.
We also use a large number of picture books – ones that require critical thinking skills – because we don’t believe that pictures are for kids. Visual interpretation (as used in art appreciation) is just as important as text interpretation.
Overall, so long as the texts are relevant to our students, we believe in combining classic and modern literature.